“To responsibly critique art, wrote W. H. Auden, requires “an inclination to praise rather than blame, and regret when a complete rejection is required….” But we’ve done our share of praising this year, and instead of another round-up of the products the online world collectively drooled over during 2007, here are our picks for the worst. Rather than going for the most obscure or ludicrous gadgets, we based our choices on missed opportunities, hype gone awry and some mysterious fumbles. And while we tried to bash constructively the gizmos we’ve tested so extensively in the lab, sometimes the most useful response is, in fact, a complete rejection,” Erik Sofge writes for Popular Mechanics.

#8. Microsoft Zune 1.0 and 2.0: “To take on the iPod, Apple’s sleek little Goliath with record-breaking sales and a spot in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection, Microsoft last year unveiled the Zune: a larger, heavier, equally-expensive device. What did it have that the iPod didn’t? The ability to temporarily share songs with others Zunes. Of course, this interesting feature was crippled by a three-play or three-day expiration (whichever came first). Microsoft also had the questionable logic of offering the brick-shaped device in brown. Quite simply, instead of killing the iPod, the Zune barely made a whimper when it was introduced,” Sofge writes.

“Cut to this year. Apple has revamped their entire iPod line, shrinking their already-tiny Nanos and adding the iPhone’s multitouch interface to a non-phone media player. So how does Microsoft respond? By matching the size and feature set of the previous year’s iPods and not even attempting to compete on price (the updated Zunes cost pretty much exactly the same as the new iPods). It’s almost as if Microsoft didn’t anticipate Apple making a single update or change to their constantly evolving line of players,” Sofge writes.

#2 Apple TV: “There is nothing wrong with Apple TV. Unfortunately, there’s nothing overwhelmingly right about it, either. This is the rare black mark in an otherwise spotless multi-year streak from Cupertino—a product that was not only completely overshadowed by the company’s own iPhone, but by the larger industry of video-download devices and services…The problem with Apple TV isn’t the interface or the hardware, which are up to Apple’s current high standards. The issue is competition. DVRs and Video On Demand have fought their way into American living rooms. The only way Apple could have trumped them was to offer a huge selection of movies and monthly, all-you-can-eat plans. They did neither, becoming an online version of your nearest FYE, with decent (but not surprising) prices, and a spotty selection of new releases and mysterious B movies,” Sofge writes.

Full article with the other eight entries — Palm’s stillborn Foleo is #1 — here.

Sofge nails the Zune, but his Apple TV criticism misses the mark.

Before you scream, “Of course MacDailyNews is going to defend Apple!” – let us explain:

No doubt, Sofge’s got it right that it’s the content that’s the issue, but that also means that the Apple TV doesn’t belong on this list. As a “gadget,” the Apple TV is beautiful, thoughtfully-designed hardware with excellent software and a world-class user interface. Apple TV works great, just as promised. Feed it HD video, music, photos, home movies, and Apple TV soars.

What might belong on the list (and under the Zune, not above, please) are Apple’s iTunes Store’s TV Shows and Movies sections. Not enough content, no rental option for the kind of content we’d rather rent: movies and TV shows that we mostly watch just once and really have little reason to buy and park on our hard drives to waste space. Let us buy the handful of movies we’d like to watch multiple times, otherwise, we’d rather rent/subscribe.

But, let’s think about this a bit more. Is the problem really Apple here? We just don’t think so. We have to imagine that Apple’s been doing everything they can to cut deals with content providers in order to enhance the hardware they’re trying to sell. After all, that’s where Apple makes their money, not by selling TV Shows and movies – the studios get most of the profit. We think, that instead of the Apple TV, or even the iTunes Store’s video sections, that Hollywood – the content providers – belong on this list. They’re the ones dragging their heels, holding things back by limiting selection and video resolution while asking too much for their product, not Apple.

What do you think? Is the Apple TV really a “Top 10 Worst Gadget of 2007” or is Popular Mechanics blaming an excellent gadget for issues that are simply beyond its control?

More about Apple TV and what can be done to improve it can be found in the related articles below.